ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners discussed their Millage Rate in a Special Meeting this July without one of its members.
Having contracted COVID-19, the board’s third commissioner, Karleen Ferguson, was absent from the meeting for health and safety. The two remaining commissioners discussed accepting the rollback rate versus not accepting it.
Very early, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris voiced his opinion to accept the rollback rate saying, “My personal position would be that we should take the rollback rate. It’s not going to hurt us terribly and I don’t think this is the year to be trying…”
Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed saying that he was good with the Rollback as well.
However, additional discussions turned to the Bond Millage Rate for the county. With discussions last year on reducing the rate, the Commissioners ultimately decided against it, keeping the 1.5 mills, but promising to revisit the idea in 2020. Now, Parker and Paris began discussions by immediately moving to a debate on whether to reduce it by .25 or .15 mills. Paris noted that work still needs to continue in capital projects and expenditures coming in the Road Department as well. Having the Bond Millage pay off part of the bond debt service allows more SPLOST funds for those expenditures.
Parker offered his opinion on the Bond Millage saying, “I would be fine going with .25.” However, he did mention a desire to look at it again later. Looking at the decreases, Paris said he didn’t have a problem with reducing it by .25 mills to a Bond Millage Rate of 1.25 mills.
The rates were approved by two separate motions as Paris made a motion to approve advertising, it came to accept the Rollback Rate of 6.783 mills. The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Then came another motion from Paris to have “the Bond Millage Rate be reduced from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills.” The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Moving forward, the Commissioners are looking for another Special Called meeting towards the end of August to formally adopt the Millage Rate. They have to wait for the Board of Education to adopt their rate in August before the County can formally adopt both rates.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both cities and counties carry on amid the shutdown, and Gilmer is also moving forward in this time with their April meeting, but with a few changes.
Gilmer has already made changes over March as meetings saw a distancing line in the meeting room, and all meetings have been held in the Jury Assembly Room in the Gilmer County Courthouse. However, this month will see another change as the Board is only sending one agenda. Gilmer’s BOC will still meet is person, as of now, but will not be holding their usual work session.
Gilmer is continuing monitor situations during the shutdown and two agenda items stick out among the agenda as potential ramifications of the nations current situation.
Among the items is listed “Discussion and possible action to grant authority to the Tax Commissioner to waive Interest and Penalties” and “Discussion and possible action regarding the upcoming May General and Presidential Primaries.”
Elections have been a growing topic as we draw closer to May during a Presidential Election year which has, historically, been one of the highest turnout years for elections.
Not holding a work session, the public will be hearing discussion and votes in the same day for April. The rest of the meeting is set to proceed as normal with usual items like Citizens wishing to speak and the financial statement. The meeting will be held on Thursday, April 9, 2020, at 6 p.m., in the Jury Assembly Room of the Courthouse.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s pool has undergone another edit in the weeks since the last meeting where the design was debated at length.
While the last meeting ended with no actual approved design, certain topics were presented as priorities in the pool by citizens and organizations and some of the aspects were left to be “worked in” to the pool by the design team at Premiere Pools & Spas. The design changes allow for a few changes in operations and accommodations, according to Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris.
One of the major, and most obvious, changes is the connection of the two pools into one through a walkway. Paris said, “There are a couple of advantages to this. The first is we can get by with one filtration system rather than having to have two separate… Also, we can get by with one heating system rather than having to have separate heaters both pools.”
The connection will make the one solid pool 160 feet long according to the preliminary plans presented during the meeting. The swim lanes will be 75 feet while the wade in / splash area will reach 73.5 feet at its widest point.
Paris went on to say, “The push behind this particular choice to connect these two pools is, in addition to the cost savings, this provides a better segway into the senior aerobics and any other type of activity like that that requires a varying level of depth depending on how tall the individual may be.”
This does still include the diving well and zero-entry point from previous meetings and designs but changes a few other key points noted from last month. Since it will no longer be two separate pools, the splash area will not grade down in the same direction as the lanes. The splash area will also not reach 4 feet deep, but instead only reach 3.5 feet deep with it continuing deeper into the pathway connecting the pools. The recreation pool will not be 5 feet deep the whole length, but instead rise to a 4.5 feet deep area in the middle, the same area swimmers will be on as they walk through that pathway.
While these items changed from the last meeting, no specifics design had been approved until today. In today’s meeting, not only did the item reignite the debate over the pool, the county, roads, and TSPLOST, but it did also finally see the formal adoption of a design as the Commissioners move towards bidding the project out for construction.
Paris did also say it is starting to look like the roof over to enclose the pool will be pushed as a return project next year. This has, however, been stated as a possibility and a part of the county’s plan in previous meetings as they attempt to see how far they can go in the project with the money available.
However, the meeting did see a restart on citizens debating the county’s funds and usage. Joene DePlancke specified her concerns and summed up what she called a general feeling amongst citizens as “pool vs. roads.”
She pointed to concerns about the county’s provision of a pool and school usage versus Board of Education financial support for the pool. She also noted that the county is looking at a possible major road project out Yukon Road with the construction of Clear Creek Elementary. As far as shared usage, Paris and Gilmer Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White noted that the county and rec sports do access and use school facilities like the basketball courts and football fields similar to how the school swim team would use the Recreation Pool. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson also added that adult tennis programs use the school’s tennis courts.
DePlanke voiced other concerns about funding saying she wants the pool but the project alongside TSPLOST elections is creating the tension of a “pool vs. roads” division.
Paris, and later echoed by Ferguson, noted that much of the management in the county and government is a balancing act.
Paris said he hears the people who say that you shouldn’t build a pool and use all the money for the roads. But he also hears families and others saying they want to have the pool. He noted several equipment purchases for the road department and an equipment shed to help maintain it. He said that much of this progress is slow and he is continuing that process to improve the roads while balancing the wants and needs of all the departments in the county.
He said that the TSPLOST specifically is an option and he doesn’t personally care if it passes as he sees the progress that has been made and the path towards continued growth in that department. With Gilmer’s financial situation and its efforts to continue growing that, as evident by a much larger reserve for the county, he asserts that the progress will be made either way, with TSPLOST making it much faster.
Paris said much of the sentiment, in his opinion, on roads has changed significantly through the recent election process over Dallas Miller’s vacant seat in 2019. Many candidates “hammered” on the topic of roads during that campaign and it became a bigger issue. Paris said he has people call and talk about the need for better roads and immediate action but also how they don’t want a TSPLOST.
Ultimately, with an approved design and move to bid, the progress on Gilmer’s pool is taking steps forward this month. These designs are now what they will use to have engineering performed and construction to begin in the near future after the current demolition of the current pool ends.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the bid for demolition awarded and proceeding, the county is starting to look closer at the projects designs and details as they prepare to take the next step towards construction of the pool design in the coming months with bids for construction.
However, a Special Called Meeting this week saw the BOC revisiting the design aspect of the pool. Many things have changed since the plans for the pool were presented to the county. While the county approved a proposal in June 2019 to have Premier Pools & Spas be the pools designed and a design was presented, County Attorney David Clark has recently informed the Commissioner that no actual approval or adoption of the design was given.
So, in preparation of bidding out a design for engineering and construction, the Commissioners set to discussing that design this week. The largest topic debated this week became the depth of the deeper end of the smaller “splash” pool. While plans originally had the deepest section of this at 2.6 feet, according to County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, aerobics and therapy classes need this to be 4 feet deep.
The county went through discussions on several design changes and ideas, debating pros and cons of each. Some of these included combining the two pools, making part of the lap pool more shallow for this, creating to “L”s on the pool similar to the county’s old pool, and simply altering to splash pool. The discussion also grew to include general changes to the aquatic center idea for the county including covering both pools and heating both pools for year round access.
The project has also seen other changes, Paris confirmed after the meeting that placing the pool in the same location as the old one would obviously not allow for the full recreation center originally planned and designed. However, he did say this hasn’t killed that idea, but rather forced it further down the line to possibly placed elsewhere. Regardless, the county is focusing on the pools design at this time.
Considering all of these changes, the options will be sent to Premier to redo the pool design, through the numerous discussions, the Board will be sending the changes and are expected to be ready for the March meetings. Current understanding is that while the pools will still be separate, the “Rec Pool” and the “Zero-Entry Pool,” as the county decide to call the main pool with lanes and the smaller, shallower pools respectively, will see other changes.
The Rec Pool will be 5 feet deep instead of previous reports of four feet and, at one time, four feet in the middle and five feet on the ends.
The Zero-Entry Pool will slope down for nearly half of the pool and have a four feet deep area for aerobics and activities. It will also be squared off instead of the rounder shape in previous designs.
While these changes are the understanding from this special called meeting, nothing is finalized until the design is brought back before the county in March and approved.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer County’s approval of the Second Amendment Sanctuary came last Thursday with all three commissioners voting yes for the resolution and sparking further debate over the issue’s future.
That resolution states, “The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners will not authorize or appropriate funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of any unconstitutional acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulations that infringe on the right by the people to keep and bear arms.”
Following the work session’s crowd of people and numerous people stating their support of the resolution, the debate arose on whether to adopt a resolution or an ordinance.
Jason Williamson spoke at both the Work Session and Regular Meeting of the Gilmer BOC speaking on the petitions gathered and the need to make this statement as a county. He said in the regular meeting that over 700 people had signed the petition asking for the Second Amendment Sanctuary status.
Taking a “proactive” approach, Williamson said he and others want to step out ahead of any problems which they see are inevitable in today’s political climate.
However, Williamson was not the only person speaking on behalf of the resolution as Joene DePlancke was also present in both meetings to support it. DePlancke asked that everyone at the Regular Meeting who supported the resolution to stand and nearly every person present, filling over half of the County’s Jury Assembly room in the courthouse, stood.
DePlancke went on to say, “The reason that we feel so strongly right now is that, over the years, we keep losing more and more of our freedoms by not doing anything.”
More people spoke as well in the meetings saying they supported the resolution with one individual saying he felt it wasn’t just the Second Amendment, but rather all of citizens’ rights in the Amendments are under attack.
The commissioners assured citizens in the work session that this wouldn’t mean the county would stop doing background checks or gun permits, but rather would oppose any state or federal law that would infringe on the Second Amendment. The Resolution states, “All federal acts, laws, orders, rules, regulations that violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or Article I, Section I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia, violate the true meaning and intent of those constitutions are hereby declared to be invalid and are specifically rejected in Gilmer County, Georgia and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Gilmer County, Georgia.”
FYN previously reported that the board approved a resolution and did have some talk in their work session about looking further into the possibility of an ordinance. Williamson, as one of the leaders of the movement, stated before the meeting that he wanted an ordinance over a resolution because it would be harder to change and require more opportunities for citizens to fight any changes.
FYN reached out to Williamson after the resolution passed for his response. Williamson stated, “A resolution will suffice, but we will actively pursue the ordinance once we can navigate the state laws and create an ordinance that will reflect current law and assist in maintaining our rights.”
The debate continues to flow on social media as people on both sides of the debate offer opinions.
Gene Levine stated, “Even if it’s symbolic, do it. I think Virginia will be a test bed for the effectiveness of sanctuary counties, I hear something like 90 county sheriff’s are proposing this. I realize that the feds can enforce these laws in any of these counties, but they don’t have the resources to enforce these laws on thousands of gun owners and they don’t even know who has these guns.”
On the opposite side, Andy McClure stated, “It only states that no county official or employee can enforce any federal or state law that infringes upon the rights of Gilmer citizens. It does not mean that the state cannot send the GBI, or the feds could send the FBI or ATF to enforce such laws.”
As citizens continue the debate, it seems this issue is still not completed as the Commissioner’s left room to discuss a possible ordinance and some like Williamson have already said they want to pursue more in terms of the ordinance.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Officially, Gilmer County has declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary. With the urging of citizens and submitted petitions to the county, the vote came unanimously in support of a resolution declaring the official adoption of this moniker of Second Amendment Sanctuary.
County Commissioner Charlie Paris stated during the meeting, “This is, essentially, the very same resolution that was presented to us initially. We’ve just had two or three very minor, one-word type changes.”
The minor changes were not unexpected as even Jason Williams, one of the initiators of the agenda item and the one who submitted the collected petition signatures to the county, told FYN last week that he expected the County Attorney, David Clark, to have a few such changes for legal wordings or clarifications.
Applause came from the crowd as the motion and second came and was finalized by a yes vote from all three commissioners for the resolution to support the second amendment in Gilmer County.
The county has approved a resolution at this time, but said they would look an actual ordinance change in time. Williamson previously said that an ordinance change is what specifically he wanted as it is harder to take out or change than a resolution.
Stay with FYN as we delve into the citizens comments and responses to the approval along with the actual resolution wording over the next few days.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Debate has risen among some in the county after the Gilmer Board of Commissioners published the agenda for their February meetings as people are noticing an agenda item to discuss becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
The official discussion with the BOC will occur during their work session this Wednesday, February 12. 2020, at 9:00 a.m and continue during the Regular Meeting with a final vote on Thursday, February 13, 2020, at 6:00 p.m.
The item, listed as “Discussion and possible action of Gilmer County becoming a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary,” would declare Gilmer County as an official protection for the second amendment. It would be public statement against the Federal Government that if they should ever pass a law we consider to hinder or damage the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
One of the people leading this charge, Jason Williamson, spoke with FYN about the Resolution. He said he has seen many other counties passing similar resolutions. Williamson said he and another submitted the resolution alongside petitions to show the communities desire for support. Williamson said the petitions are key in showing “a presence of support.” While he hasn’t completed the petitions and doesn’t know exactly how many supporters have signed so far, he will be turning these petitions in as part of preparation for Wednesday.
With the meeting only days away, the Gilmer Sheriff, Stacy Nicholson, has also shown support for the resolution. Williamson said he is glad to have his support saying he felt confident going into the meeting.
Williamson said, “I am very big on the Second Amendment. I realized, and most people do, that the Second Amendment is the only protection we have from tyranny. When I started seeing what the state leadership of Virginia was doing, and hearing some of the other things from friends of mine that live there, we, the people, need to speak out.”
He went on to say that while Georgia hasn’t officially passed anything that he sees directly threatening yet, this is a message to other counties and other states that we support this and to also push the point to expose our leadership’s views on the subject in Georgia and in our counties.
Part of that leadership, Sheriff Nicholson told FYN that he was fully in support saying, “I support, wholeheartedly, these resolutions being passed by counties in Georgia… I think it sends a good message to our legislatures in Washington and to those in Atlanta.”
Nicholson offered that while he hasn’t read the specific resolution being put forward in Gilmer, yet, he is very pro second amendment.
FYN questioned exactly what kind of power or pushback this resolution would legally give in the event of State Legislation. To which, Nicholson replied, “I think it’s more about sending a message to the entire nation where we stand on protecting our citizens’ constitutional rights.”
It was a sentiment separately repeated by Williamson who agreed the resolution was a preemptive move to put Gilmer in the position of being proactive rather than reactive to any such legislation.
Additionally, he went on to say the topic also “to make sure that our Sheriffs understand that they’ve got our support just as much we ask for their support as they are the supreme authority as the constable of the county.”
Williamson said he wants everyone who can attend to show support for the resolution to be present at this weeks meetings. Some have already offered counter points to the resolution saying that as a sanctuary nation by right due to the second amendment being a part of the constitution. Williamson said he has had some calling the resolution a “waste of time” because of this. But his response comes as he points to both the state and federal governments offering “interpretations” of the law and constitution. He said that much has been degraded through these people constantly picking apart these amendments to “what they think is reasonable.”
Instead, Williamson said, “I think this is just, hopefully, going to put that debate to bed.”
During the meeting, the Board announced Jacob Anderson Co. LLC. as the lowest bidder for the demolition project. Their bid was reported in the meeting at $76,000.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that the county has had previous dealings with this company. They were awarded the demolition project of chicken houses on county property.
Additionally, Public Works Director Jim Smith also commented on the company saying even the few smaller problems that were raised with previous projects, he noted an example of mud on the road, were quickly dealt with as soon as he brought them up. Smith went on to say he had nothing but good things to say about the county’s experiences so far with the company.
Moving forward with this project, demolition beginning no later than February 1, 2020, the county will be inspecting the project closely as they look for issues and concerns to address before it starts bidding out the coming construction of the new pool.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Paving roads and the amount of spending came into debate as the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met with Mayors and members of City Hall from both Ellijay and East Ellijay today to discuss TSPLOST negotiations.
The discussion centered on the split that each entity wanted to see with the upcoming possible TSPLOST tax. Each entity vied for an increase to their portion over and above what they got for the previous SPLOST split. Debate arose around the idea of the cities increasing to a flat 2 percent for East Ellijay and 6 percent for Ellijay. This would be up from the 1.93 percent that East Ellijay has with the SPLOST split and up from 5.72 percent that Ellijay has.
However, as the discussion progressed, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he also wanted the county’s percentage to go up considering the 500 miles of road in the unincorporated parts of the county, roads maintained by the county.
The two mayors countered with arguments of their own. Mayor of Ellijay, Al Hoyle noted that many of the roads they maintain in the city are used more than those in the outer parts as people travel out of town on city-maintained roads to reach the county roads.
East Ellijay Mayor Mack West added to the notion saying that East Ellijay has a constant need for Eller Road as an example. Due to the high traffic and usage, the road is already showing cracks after only three years since paving.
However, the topic ultimately came to rest at proceeding with the same split that each entity sees on the normal SPLOST, Gilmer County receives 92 percent, Ellijay receives 5.72 percent, and East Ellijay receives 1.93 percent.
However, the negotiations of percentage were not the only discussion held in the meeting as citizens debated the TSPLOST in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section.
Bill Craig, of North Georgia Diamond, voiced his opinion that the retail business community may have been left out of the discussion on the topic. Saying that the county hasn’t considered the impact to businesses that more sales tax might have. He offered scenarios to consider that people visiting might go elsewhere or stop early to buy groceries or similar necessities if they visit Ellijay, or that someone might visit another county to buy larger items like his store provides, being jewelry and diamonds.
While Paris did say he met with one retailer privately to discuss the topic, Craig repeated that he felt the county had not done enough to understand the business impact.
Mayor West commented on possible impact saying if he was going to buy something like a diamond, he would shop with North Georgia Diamond over driving to Atlanta for only a $100 difference, coming from the 1 percent sales tax increase.
Craig went on to say that adding TSPLOST would make Gilmer one of the highest sales tax percentages in the state.
In fact, according to the Georgia Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart (pictured to the right) published, for January 2020, by the Georgia Department of Revenue, of the 159 counties in Georgia, just over half of them have an 8 percent sales tax.
Actually, 83 counties have an 8 percent sales tax, while 69 counties (including Gilmer) have a 7 percent sales tax, 4 counties have a 6 percent sales tax, and only one county, Ware County, has a 9 percent sales tax. This does exclude Fulton and DeKalb counties with split sales tax in parts of the county according to this document.
Also, there are 87 counties that currently have some form of a TSPLOST, whether it is the original state TSPLOST or a locally added TSPLOST after that statewide vote.
Looking more specifically to the Highway 515 corridor, as some have called it, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, and Union Counties all, currently, have a sales tax rate of 7 including LOST (Local Option Sales Tax), SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
One more comment of major note came from Chairman Paris who said, “I’m fine with it either way,” when discussing if the TSPLOST will pass on the ballots. Paris admitted a large amount of pressure on him from the public. He has stated in previous meetings that he feels the road department and the county’s roads are progressing. He ultimately simplified the discussion and the TSPLOST vote as he summed it up by saying its a decision on if we want our roads fixed over the next 25 years or the next 5 years. The TSPLOST, as he described, is simply a way to achieve the same results faster.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is advertising a meeting early in the new year with the city governments of Ellijay and East Ellijay.
This Special Called Meeting, set for January 7, 2020, at 10 a.m., has only one agenda item, “Discussion and possible action of Intergovernmental Agreement for a proposed T-SPLOST with the Cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay.”
The meeting is actually set the day before the county is set to hold its January Workshop, scheduled for January 8, 2019, at 9 a.m.
While not fully confirmed, the county has held similar meetings in the past when discussing their SPLOST renewal in 2018 where they negotiated each of the cities’ percentage that they would take from the tax. At that time, it was confirmed that the county could have moved forward without the cities, but noted several benefits to cooperating and negotiating their involvement.
With the TSPLOST, there has been no specific discussion on the need, benefits, or reason for involving the cities since the Board already approved the TSPLOST to go for a vote on the ballots without them. However, County Attorney David Clark did say at that meeting that the county needed to finalize details and work on a few more items before they would be ready to put it on the ballot.
In any scenario, at this time, it appears the county will be reaching out to the cities for their support of or involvement in the TSPLOST in the coming week.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Two days before Christmas, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met to discuss last-minute items of the 2020 Budget and an Airport lease before the end of 2019.
Approving the 2020 Budget, the Board is officially ready for the year after a process starting in September preparing for Budget Hearings with Department Heads and Elected Officials.
With discussions over the Road Department from Public Works Director Jim Smith, the topic of attracting people for positions came up as Smith requested confirmation of budgeting for two unfilled positions.
The county has been looking for people to hire into these positions for months and still has not hired anyone. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris did say the funding was there, but voiced concerns over the possibility of filling the positions after the long period.
The board is also moving forward with a lease to the Georgia Forestry Commission. Public Works Director Jim Smith is finalizing details alongside County Attorney David Clark as they divide one back room and split between the airport and the commission without granting access to the entire area for the commission.
The county is awaiting a response on changes to the agreement and should be finalizing the lease in the coming months. One detail still in flux is a request for control over a full hangar, another is an issue with credit cards and the county’s card reader for the purchase of fuel. With several possibilities being discussed, the board left Smith to work through the operational details over the office space, hangar space, and buying fuel. The item will return to the January agenda for the board to see the agreement and vote on approval.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – County officials are looking deeper into the demolition of the county’s old pool and deciding what to salvage and what to dispose of as they look at placing the county’s new pool project there.
The county is also looking at the plumbing as Maintenance Director D.J. Spagnola said he wanted to be involved with the process as the dig down so that he could look at plumbing for the restrooms and pool project to determine needed fixes and replacements before they move forward with constructing the new pool.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said at the December meetings, “Originally, I really wanted to have this done by opening day. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make that… I’m getting really frustrated because it has been seven months now…”
Paris went on to say that most of the county’s time has been spent looking for a location when it started at Clear Creek and then on to River Park. The county began looking for property but came to the conclusion that they didn’t want the old location due to the costs of demolition, a project they could effectively delay until a later date. Now, considering the costs of buying property versus demolishing the old location for the new pool.
The county has almost completely decided on this location for the new pool. However, reservations are still being held as Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has said in previous meetings that she wants to see what they find during the demolition before setting the location in stone. She did note that she is for the location, but is just wanting to hold a way out in case they find something big and to consider the price of the demolition.
As Paris said he still wanted to expedite the project to attempt to complete it before the season ends, Ferguson said, “I commend you for the work. We’ve tried different avenues. I think this is too important a project to speed through and rush it anyway… I think it’s better that we have taken the time and we have tried different options. We have considered all options that were possibilities.”
The county is focusing on this location, though, and are looking to get out and receive bids on the demolition as soon as possible.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote this week from the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) gave final approval to put a new tax of TSPLOST to public vote in the new year as they prepare to address Roads and Bridges issues.
The new tax will be a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) specifically designed to bring in new funding to address the 501 miles of paved roads within Gilmer County that the county is responsible for paving and maintaining.
Citizens have been debating this issue in earnest since November 13 when a Roads and Bridges town hall meeting turned to a TSPLOST discussion after Commission Chairman Charlie Paris put the idea forth saying he could not find any alternative to address the issues as quickly as people have been wanting. However, the discussion has been going in the BOC since budget sessions and talks of shrinking the contingency fund in late October and early November.
This week, the Chairman said that the recent Post 1 Commissioner campaign really “stirred the pot.” The campaign highlighted an issue that many people understood that progress was being made slowly. Now, people are getting more vocal about the issues. Paris said, “And they’re right. We need to do something about this.”
The board appears to agree that raising the millage rate to fund the roads is completely out of the question. Instead of raising the taxes of the millage rate, a new TSPLOST tax is coming forward to be voted on by the public.
As discussion from the work session continued on the TSPLOST, the commissioners discussed the difference between the TSPLOST and continuing as-is. The major note came to be speed. Paris has stated several times since November that he believes the progress will continue as they strengthen the road department. Paris said this week that a TSPLOST will allow us to accomplish over the next 5 years what we will accomplish over the next 25 years.
Also mentioned in the meeting, Paris said he believes the option of bonding the TSPLOST is out. He explained that if approved the county will pursue rights of way, begin collections that are allocated quarterly, and citizens would really see a big effort increase in the Road Department by Spring of 2021. In fact, Paris said later in the meeting, “If these folks approve this TSPLOST, I am going to be paving in the Spring of 2021.”
This discussion also restated Paris’ desire to switch future projects in the county to start bidding out asphalt paving projects across LMIG and new projects and having the Road Department continue with tar and chip and other roads.
County Attorney David Clark urged the commissioners to continue talks in the coming months to focus and list all possible projects for the TSPLOST as the discussion has ignored the bridge issues in the county, many of which have come from failures in the maintenance of those bridges
Paris clarified that while they have not been specifically mentioned, thoughts for bridges has definitely been on his mind.
Still, Clark said the board should get their projects set and details set before the county puts the option on the ballot for public vote as the public needs to know everything possible and everything being considered in a TSPLOST.
With approval to be put on the ballot done, many questions are still out there on the topic. Paris mentioned wanting more town halls on the TSPLOST for specific regions of the county to ‘go to the people.’ He explained that he wanted to make it far easier for those in the local area to attend and discuss the topic, holding four different meetings in four different sections of Gilmer.
Additionally, estimated collections are still to be calculated and details worked out for the coming vote.
Newly elected Post 1 Commissioner, Hubert Parker also spoke in the meeting saying, “You’ve identified the situation and the options. SPLOST is the only tax I know of where the voters have a direct voice rather than going through an elected representative. So, I think it’s up to them…”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is not taking the final month of 2019 easy as published agendas for next week highlight action to be taken on the possibility of a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) in Gilmer alongside other issues with board and authority appointments, a leftover concrete bid not awarded in November, updates on the 2020 Road Paving List, and 10 zoning requests among other items on the long agenda.
As stated in previous months and special called meetings, the TSPLOST proposal will be a five-year tax similar to SPLOST. However, the TSPLOST will be dedicated to Gilmer transportation needs specifically. This could be usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary.
Although support was high in the Roads and Bridges Town Hall meetings, others are voicing concerns over another tax added to the county. As opposed to additional millage on property taxes, this TSPLOST would be another one-cent tax added to purchases in the county.
Discussion will be held at both meetings along with opportunities during the “Citizens Wishing to Speak” sections of those meetings. The work session will be held Wednesday, December 11 at 9 a.m., and the regular meeting will be held Thursday, December 12 at 6 p.m.
Along the same topic of roads, the commissioners are set to discuss next year’s paving plans including the 2020 Road Paving list, setting exactly which roads will be covered under the LMIG (Local Maintenance Improvement Grant) and county funding for the year.
Additionally, the monthly update and discussion on the county pool could highlight costs as the county is pursuing bids for demolition of the old pool and preparation for its use as the new pool’s location.
Gilmer County’s freshly restored-to-three Board of Commissioners is delving deep into talks with citizens on the topic of roads and bridges.
Going through town hall meetings, the discussion was originally advertised to hear citizens’ thoughts on roads and bridges. However, at the beginning of their first town hall, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris offered a few words of his own thoughts saying he receives numerous calls daily about the situation.
With 501 miles of roads in the county, Paris said just under 200 miles of that is unpaved gravel road. Paris noted the major problem with the gravel roads is that as soon as the county fixes a road, a heavy rain will destroy the repairs and work they have accomplished.
Even though they planned to move road to road with two teams across the county, these teams cannot follow schedules as Paris says he constantly tells them to respond to one complaint or another, whether it’s ditches or other worse gravel roads.
When trying to find an answer to these issues, Paris said he wants to pave more roads. While he points to the major improvements in the road department over the recent years, he admits the budget is not enough to accommodate everything he wants to do with and in the Road Department.
Paving roads in the county costs between $40,000 – $50,000 per mile for “tar and chip” according to Paris, asphalt paving is more costly at about $90,000 per mile. These costs do not include striping as the county does not stripe its own roads. However, Paris said another “wish” would be to begin looking for equipment and having the road department begin striping as it has been difficult to find companies recently to do the striping.
After paving and striping, maintenance also includes mowing of all 501 miles of road.
As he spoke about the costs of each need the county has for paving and the wants he verbalized for the department and the county, Paris said, “When I first took office, I could be heard to say many times, ‘We’re broke. We can’t do that, we’re broke.’ We’re not broke anymore, and I’m really proud of that. We’re in a good financial position…” Paris went on to note that some people have said to use reserves money to pave or to take the money from the larger budgets like Fire, EMA, or Sheriff. Paris noted that these budgets are all severely cut already during the budget process. He said taking enough from these other sources would cripple the departments just to make a little progress on the roads.
One of the biggest strains on the budget each year is, of course, the debt service for the county paying off its bond debt. Citizens have been contending with this situation for years. And More recently, they have dealt with the 1.5 mill bond millage. However, Paris did say that during the budget process this year, they had considered lowering this rate, and in fact are looking to take the bond millage in the 2020 budget down to 1.25 instead of 1.5 saying, “It was never intended to be a permanent extra half mill. We have projected in our 2020 budget that that will go down to a mill-and-a-quarter rather than a mill-and-a-half. With the idea that in the 2021 budget, it will go back down to a mill and the half mill will be gone.”
Returning to the subject at hand of roads and bridges, ultimately, Paris said he saw only three options for the county.
With 13 years left to pay on the bond debt service, the county can continue as it is, spending about a million dollars on paving a year and raise it after the debt is paid.
The second option would be to raise the millage rate, which Paris adamantly stated was not an option he would consider.
The third option Paris offered, was to enact a “local TSPLOST.” Paris said that several years ago, the county voted on a regional TSPLOST. Paris said he opposed that TSPLOST as it was a regional tax, usable in many of the other counties.
Many will recall what citizens at the time called a “punishment” for voting no, the matching funds for LMIG grants was raised from 10% to 30%. Paris said that even today, he would still adamantly oppose a regional TSPLOST.
What he proposed as a local TSPLOST, the stipulation would be that the money must be used for nothing outside of transportation. Usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary, Paris said he wouldn’t want to use it for salaries “because that TSPLOST will go away at some point and those salaries will still be there.”
A TSPLOST would be a 5-year program. As he noted this, Paris stated, “You have the option of renewing it after 5 years, my pledge is that I will never ask for a renewal if we do it one time.”
Paris said he has tried for other alternatives to get the roads in shape and maintain them but has yet to find a sufficient answer.
After his nearly 30 minute speech over the state of the county’s roads and road department, many of the citizens present offered their support for a TSPLOST. Towards the end of the meeting, Paris asked how many people would be willing to support it. Nearly every person attending raised their hand. In fact, only one person at the meeting opposed the TSPLOST.
Paris also asked another question during the meeting. Far fewer people, less than half of those present, supported the idea when Paris asked who would want to sell bonds on the TSPLOST to see a faster effect on the county’s roads. This second topic was actually originally raised by one citizen, John Schmidt, who asked how soon the citizens would see the option to vote on it and would begin seeing the changes as he said, “People, a lot of the time, we expect things to happen overnight.”
Paris said, “I have had it recommended to me that if this passes, that we go ahead and get a bond and do it all once and then pay for it with the TSPLOST. But, I’m not real big on doing that. I would kind of rather just let things sit for four or five months and let some money build up and then do it as it comes in.”
This is not the first time the Commissioners have spoken of the topic of a TSPLOST, but it is the first time it has been discussed with citizens as an actual option for the county to pursue. It could come as soon as the May ballot in 2020. Collections would begin on the first day of the next quarter.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is moving into the final stages of its budget process as official approval for the advertisement of the 2020 budget came in November.
Coming from the original proposals and requests for each department, the county has cut more than a million dollars to achieve the budget’s current form. Now, with approval to advertise, the county will look to adopt the budget in December, just in time for the start of the 2020 calendar year.
With the board now back to its original three-person format, no resurgence in the budget has come from newly elected Post Commissioner Hubert Parker who was present for most of those original budget meetings as a citizen after qualifying for the election.
November itself saw one last hurdle as the board looked for its last few cuts to balance the budget, considering a smaller contingency fund to make up the difference.
The final form is being advertised as thus:
One item not included in the budget as advertised was raised in recent talks over roads and bridges with citizens where the BOC put forth the idea of a TSPLOST for the county to answer citizen concerns over road issues.
The budget is set to advertise through the beginning of December, citizens can comment on the budget during December’s regular meetings at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, and 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, 2019.